It’s not easy coming back to work from any extended leave, but I think maternity leave is the hardest transition of all. Most obviously, there are the mixed feelings of having to leave your child to return to work. I consider myself lucky for having worked out a satisfactory arrangement with my employer that allows me to work part-time from home, so I don’t have to put my son in daycare.
But there’s another difficult transition that is less obvious. When you have a child, your perspective on what’s important shifts completely. Taking care of a baby forces you to slow down and be in the moment more. Your baby is living in baby time, so you have to too, at least some of the time. So many of us strive to do this in our everyday lives, but I’ve never found it to be so effortless as when I spend time taking care of or playing with my son.
Spending some time removed from the world of the office living in baby time makes it clear how meaningless so many aspects of work life are that once seemed so critical. I don’t mean the work, necessarily, but the office politics, the perpetually burning fires that must be put out, the never-ending crises manufactured to insert some drama into the everyday routine. The office is such an insular world, where the smallest problems and especially interpersonal conflicts are often blown up into monumental issues.
Having a child — or, I would argue, having anything that is personally meaningful outside of work — puts it all back into perspective. It becomes easier to identify the drama that goes on at the office as just that — drama. It becomes easier to simply refuse to participate in the office politics and all the nonsense that comes along with it.
The challenge is not to get back sucked in once you return to that world. Maybe work-life balance is not so much a juggling act between your work and your life, but rather balancing the relative importance of all aspects of your life, including your work, and not letting one thing — especially work — blow up out of proportion in comparison.